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5 tips to better self-reflection at work.

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Reflection – looking in the mirror with ‘serious and careful thought’.

Author: David Tinker MSc. OD Consultant and Executive Coaching Supervisor.

A man looking into broken piece of mirror

As I write this from my narrowboat, a couple of people have just walked past, reflecting on a situation in their family. Walking along river paths somehow creates the space for ‘serious and careful thought’ alone or with others. We need to take this same self-reflection at work to process situations, challenges, and critical decisions. Still, for some reason, we find it challenging in the noise generated by our schedules, our offices (or even back-to-back zoom calls) to find our corporate version of a river path.

It can be challenging to look in the mirror, especially if it’s not something people have learned as a skill in their formative years. However, it’s a skill that is more critical for our businesses than we realise.

HR and L&D professionals understand the value of individual and group reflection or review as it creates space for insight and learning that, in turn, leads to increased performance. We do the practice more than we realise at the office during “special” events such as focus groups, annual team reviews, or even learning events where we enable employees to step away from the certainty of everyday stuff and cross into another world of inquiry and uncertainty.

Here they’re invited to look at themselves, their task or role and the people around them from a potentially complex position of being detached, stepped back, and yet connected with thoughts and emotions.

However, the opportunity for businesses is when we start to practice this in a more structured and purposeful way in our day-to-day work settings. Helping us to gain better insight into our work challenges to find better or more constructive solutions as well as also build the muscles of critical thinking, imagination and even visualisation.

Finding a way into some kind of reflective practice takes a few simple steps. Here are 5 tips for better self-reflection at work:

  1. Create an environment where openness is possible. This is achieved through a lot of contracting about confidentiality up front to help overcome suspicion and fear. Then keep re-contracting throughout especially if the group is struggling to flow.

  2. Choose a structure as the backbone or the scaffolding –to hold and enable. Structures help us know where we stand especially when it looks like we’re heading out to sea. I may have mixed too many metaphors!

  3. Give employees choice in what they do and how they can respond. Choice empowers and works well when part of a structured process. Too much choice with no structure could be terrifying for some people and may result in them running away – limiting contribution.

  4. Make the methods of expression playful, expressive and interesting. Art, VR, metaphors and brainstorming can all help ease people into describing difficult ‘stuff’.

  5. Build a safe container. Ensure the process is held well by an individual or team who are grounded, non-judgemental, generous with compassion and who understand the material at depth.

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